"What do I mean by civil society?"
"I personally feel that civil society should not be “Eurocentric”. I believe that even before modernity, many traditions of society [existed] - whether you talk of Muslim Spain, the Ottoman empire or Muslim Khalifas or Delhi Sultans or the Mughals or even China under the Tang dynasty. I mean they had their kind of civil society; that is why plural societies existed rather than being “marginalised” or eliminated. So, I feel that civil society could be defined in reference to tradition, in reference to modernity, in reference to democracy, in reference to non-official groups and think-tanks and institutions which play the role of intermediaries between the government and the society. They also mediate between different sections of society: majorities, minorities."
"What are the imperatives for the civil society in Muslim countries like Pakistan?"
"I think most of all they should try to indigenise themselves because the NGOs or certain groups like the media, or women’s groups; groups which want to see democracy prospects in Muslim societies: They are seen as alien forces, they are seen as pseudo-western, maybe in their lifestyles or maybe in the medium they use, or language they use. So I will say there is a greater need for indigenisation in civil society."
"I will say that civil society should try to establish its own independent domain. What I mean by an independent domain is that it should not be dependent on the state, it should not be dependent on foreign donors as well. I mean this is a big debate in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, many of these NGOs have got foreign connections which becomes a kind of question of credibility."
"The third element"
" I would say that the civic forces should build up local and small community orientated projects and then they should align themselves together, rather than going for big things for which we do not have enough resources. What we need basically in countries like Pakistan is that the civic forces, they are there but they are fighting their own separate, individual battles. We need to get them together. We need to have a sort of minimum consensus among these civic forces. Whether they come from middle-class or they come from political groups or they come from the judiciary or they come from media or academia or women activists; I think they need to develop bridges. "
"And the fourth step"
"I would say that the civil societies in countries like Pakistan should establish relationships, associations and bridges with civil societies elsewhere."
"There are lots of network groups - “Pakistanis Abroad”, the “Friends of Pakistan” - and so this diffusion of information is helping people in terms of articulation; in terms of taking a stand on different issues; but this thing should not be seen simply as a kind of expatriate venture. I think the groups within Pakistan, the civic groups within Pakistan, the human rights groups, the democratic forces, they should be strengthened by these groups which are based in Western Europe or North America."
"I personally feel that Islam’s social, moral, cultural and historical traditions allow pluralism, they allow equality on the basis of citizenship, they also allow freedom for all kinds of views even if they are, you know, minority views or “un-Islamic” views. In Islam, I think, there are rights, even equal for women and this is where I think Muslim feminism could be constructed. So, I don’t see Islam as a kind of antagonistic force to the concept or to the reality of the civil society. That’s why I said initially that civil society should not be seen as simply a European post-Enlightenment product. Also, I think, within Islam, given some more debate and intellectual discourse, we could establish something called “Muslim Secularism”, rather than seeing Islam and secularism as two poles apart within Muslim community, I see a larger definition, a co-optive definition of Muslim identity."